Don’t advertise here: Somerset Council bans polluting car, airline, fossil fuel ads.

In exciting news from southwest UK, Somerset Council has adopted a new advertising policy that calls an end to advertising for fossil fuels, vehicles powered by petrol, diesel or hybrid power, and airlines, airports or flights across the Council’s highways assets. Specifically targeted at the council’s 120 roundabout adverts, the policy is nevertheless by far the most ambitious passed by any Council to address high-carbon advertising.

While it remains to be seen how it will be implemented across the overall advertising estate, Somerset’s policy is a huge step forwards for local action against polluting advertising, prioritising health and the environment (defying the corporate bullying experienced by many councils). Somerset is leading the way for other UK public authorities willing to align their advertising policies with carbon reduction, health and air pollution targets.

Artwork by Lotte Brockbank

An ambitious ethical advertising policy

Other recent examples of low-carbon advertising policies adopted by Councils across the UK, including CambridgeshireBasingstoke & Deane and Coventry Councils, have specifically prohibited fossil fuel adverts across their advertising estate. Somerset is the first Council to explicitly name and prohibit high-carbon products from advertising, explicitly listing fossil fuels, airlines, flights, airports and fossil-powered vehicles, alongside others ads like gambling and alcohol ads, in the categories of products and services excluded from advertising. As such, this policy most closely aligns with our recommendations to local authorities passing low-carbon advertising policies.

“3.b Advertisements featuring low carbon travel options such as rail, bus, or cycling are welcomed”– while the ethics of any advertising are widely up for debate, it is also notable that the policy explicitly makes room for local businesses and low-carbon alternatives, meeting the school of thought that advertising can help to shift behaviours towards a lower-carbon economy. Currently, advertising functions in exactly the opposite direction to this – holding back progress towards a just transition away from fossil fuels, and blocking co-benefits in improvements in health and wellbeing.

Next steps?

Somerset’s new advertising policy is a powerful example of how Councils can practically align their advertising policy with their climate commitments by explicitly prohibiting advertising for high-carbon products and services. 

We have a duty to act as soon as possible, albeit at a local level, rather than wait for a national Government policy and thought it was only fitting that our Advertising Policy should be developed to align with our Climate Emergency Strategy.” – Lucille Simms, Somerset Council Principal Commercial Officer

With the caveat that advertising policies should never be used to justify new advertising sites, we hope that many more councils, alongside transport authorities and media organisations, take the straightforward step to review their advertising policy and introduce restrictions on high-carbon advertising that is driving local air pollution, fuelling the climate emergency and holding back behaviour change initiatives to reach net zero.  

Thanks to Emilie Tricarico for this blog.

Bus stop ad for the Toyota Hilux
Toyota SUV advert in Bristol

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